I am troubled, and quite frankly confused, about the provincial government’s announcement to close and remove many of our parks in Alberta.
This announcement came just before the COVID-19 crisis escalated here in southern Alberta. However, like many Albertans, I have not forgotten.
I was raised in Medicine Hat and I am so proud to call this province home. I lived in Ontario briefly, and what I missed most about living in southern Alberta was our parks and wild, open spaces. Over the past weeks spent in self-isolation I have dreamed of summer days spent outside in our beautiful parks. However, these dreams are often interrupted by the nagging sense of concern that I feel with this government’s announcement that they plan to close 20 parks this year, and remove another 164 parks from the official Alberta parks system, seeking private partnerships to take over management.
When I look at the list of parks that are impacted, I fear for the future of these places. I have used many of these places. Like many Hatters, I have spent summer days fishing out at Bullshead and Michel Reservoirs. I have heard countless stories from weekends spent camping at Tillebrook Provincial Park. Like many southern Albertans who have lived in Calgary at some point in their lives, I have enjoyed summer hikes in Kananaskis Country, and this past winter learned to cross-country ski out there. I spent four years living in Lethbridge, and was shocked to see Park Lake Provincial Park on the list. All of these places, where many of us have built incredible memories, will be affected. Many will be closed completely, some will be under private management with no caps or limits to camping fees or new regulations, others will be abandoned and left as vacant public land.
The government is acting like this is a minor removal but to put their numbers into perspective, the number of parks proposed to be removed from the system works out to more than three-quarters of our Provincial Recreation Areas in Alberta, and approximately 40 per cent of all of our Alberta parks. This is a massive closure. The reported savings of $5 million is minuscule in comparison to the provincial budget of $56 billion. That works out to a savings of only 0.0089 per cent of the total provincial budget. If that is scaled down to a typical household budget, it would equal a savings of only $7 per year. The sheer inconsistency between the vastness of the proposed closures and the measly savings is mind boggling.
This “plan” is full of contradictions and inconsistencies. Like many Albertans, I am confused and am seeking answers. First, I want to know how the government reconciles their stated plan to double tourism revenue if there are no parks for visitors to go to? If I am visiting another province or country, I look for parks and visitor centres and campground services. If these are closed, how can our province possibly increase tourism by that magnitude? Second, I wonder where the Alberta Environment and Parks employees are going to go who no longer maintain the parks that are being closed? I thought this government’s priority was job creation? Third, how does the government reconcile the vast park closures and loss of their benefits to citizens with such minor savings? And finally, I need to know if the government understands the sheer magnitude of this ask. Do they realize how difficult it would be to find private partners to take over management of almost half of our parks in this province? Many non-profit organizations working on stewardship and conservation already struggle with financial and volunteer capacity for their day-to-day operations. Taking over the management of a single park is an immense ask, let alone management of a whopping 164.
This government campaigned on a promise of openness and transparency. They said they would be accountable to Albertans. However, just weeks before this announcement was released, they changed their public consultation page on their website from a requirement to consult Albertans to a mere suggestion that they inform us. I am appalled by the lack of consultation prior to this announcement.
This letter is not rhetorical. All Hatters should be letting their MLAs know their concerns about this announcement, and asking these questions. I am asking for answers from our MLAs here in Medicine Hat.
This announcement is extremely troubling. The government should keep these parks in the system. Albertans have demonstrated that we love and value our parks and open spaces. For me, they are what makes me proud to be an Albertan.
Brooke Kapeller, Medicine Hat